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Monday, January 16, 2012

Lessons on Quality in Clothing: Fabric and Construction Details

A couple of readers have asked me how one recognizes quality in clothing--both in the retail and secondhand markets. As a total non-sewer, I have to say I have learned a lot from books.

I've written about this book before. I first encountered it courtesy of a friend with whom I was planning to compile a guide to secondhand shopping in New Orleans. Well, the friendship ended as did the idea, hatched in those halcyon pre-Katrina days.

Why is a book on secondhand shopping still in print after 12 years? Because most of the book is on how to recognize quality: in fabric and in construction. It is really good: even buttonholes and button orientation are things to inspect.

Confession: When I was in graduate school and my TAship ran out, I discovered that I was very good at finding vintage clothes. So I did. And consigned them at the Eye of Osiris, the epicenter of the Bloomington vintage world. In another life, I must have been a seamstress or weaver, because I am very good at discerning nice fabric. In fact, I run my hands across the racks at thrift stores. I can always recognize fellow fabric people, because they--like me--look with their hands.

This is definitely a skill you can acquire, simply by going to stores and touching the merch (clean hands, please!). You could follow the path of Terri, at Rags Against the Machine, who will be scoping out shops from low-end to high-end in the coming year.

Try to get a hold of that book. It is fascinating reading.

Do you have any recommendations on how to learn to discern quality?


Tallulah Eulallie said...

Visit the high-end clothing stores in your area. You don't have to try anything on; just look and touch. Ignore the designer labels; read the care labels. What is the fiber content? Feel the fabric. How does it drape? Check out the construction. Are the seams straight and sturdily sewn? How are the raw edges of the fabric finished? Look at collars, cuffs, plackets,lapels, waistbands, and hems. How are they sewn? If the fabric is a print, is the pattern aligned at the seams? Look at the buttons. What are they made of? How are they sewn? Next, visit a store that sells inexpensive clothing, such as a mall chain store catering to teenaged girls. Again, look and touch. See the difference? You're teaching yourself to recognize a quality garment no matter who manufactured it. (You're also learning that some designer's clothes aren't even worth a tenth of what they're asking.)

Anonymous said...

Frugal--I appreciate the shout out. Like you, I have gradually learned to shop with my hands, though I don't know that I actually recognize so many features of good construction. There are a couple of blogs I read written by seamstresses (Handmade by Carolyn is a favorite). I think she wonders why I visit, but she has taught me a lot.

Wish there was a guide to shopping vintage in the KC area.

Shelley said...

Well, I'm blaming you for an impulse buy: I looked at the prices of this book on vs and snapped one up. Also googled Weil's name and discovered she wrote a blog for a little while:

She has also worked as a consultant for Oxfam UK

Duchesse said...

I'll be writing my own posts on this, but wanted to say nothing beats looking, as Tallulah says. But I would also try on as I have seen good fabric and construction, but ill-cut garments.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Tallulah--I like the idea of going from high to low.
@Terri--Sounds like you don't need a guide--you do so well on your own.
@Shelley-Will have to check out the blog. the book is enjoyable, so I think you'll be glad of your purchase.

@Duchesse-So true--that is why the beautiful pics in chic Simple (and the like) don't always translate into nice looking items on the wearer.